Special characters in Mac OS X

Insert ASCII accented character

Windows users don’t despair, you need this page: Using ASCII characters in Windows programs.

Accented characters: acutes, macrons, etc

An OS X Lion gem to get you started. In almost all programs on the Mac you can enter accented characters really easily. If you wish to write café for instance all you have to do when you get to e is hold down the e key momentarily and up pops a little palette with all the accented “e” choices. Click on the one you want, or press the number key below it. In this case I click on é or press the 2 key.

How easy was that?

You can also navigate to the letter you want with the arrow keys and press Enter. In some programs—Wordpress’s editor for instance—I find that clicking with the mouse or using the arrow/Enter method doubles up the letter, so I tend to use the number key option.

For everything else

There are several other ways of inserting special characters (aka ASCII characters) into your deathless prose when using Mac OS X. One way is to use your Mac’s standard keyboard shortcuts as revealed by the Keyboard Viewer. You can use the viewer to insert characters, but for characters you use often it’s much easier to memorize their key combinations, many of which are intuitive – for instance, Opt+o gives ø.

US keyboard viewer OS X

Before you can access the Keyboard Viewer easily you need to add the Input Menu to the Menulet section of the Menu Bar at the top right of your screen. To do this: Continue reading “Special characters in Mac OS X”

The one-page Windows fix

Here’s what to do to improve Windows’ performance.

Although Windows 7 is a big improvement over its predecessors it still gets bogged down with junk, infections and messed up files. The procedures here apply to Vista and XP as well as Windows 7.

Run antivirus and anti-spyware programs

Update and run your antivirus at least once a week. It may be automatically updated but if it’s not, get onto it. Find out the best program for your antivirus use on this page. In addition to antivirus you need more than one anti-spyware program. I use three and run one of them every 2 or 3 days. Here are the best ones.

Run Disk Cleanup

This is mainly to free up disk space, but it can help unclog Windows. To run it, click: Start » All Programs » Accessories » System tools » Disk Cleanup. In Vista and Windows 7 you can just tap the Windows key and start typing disk cleanup, after a few keystrokes—in my case just 2—you’ll see something similar to this:

Starting Disk Cleanup

Press Enter or click on the Disk Cleanup icon and you’ll be presented with the window below. Check the boxes for the files you wish to get rid of and click the Clean up system files button.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup

There are more options available for Disk Cleanup if you “Run as administrator” See my Disk Cleanup post for more info on this.

Run System File Checker

Have your Windows CD or DVD ready to insert if prompted when a repair is necessary. If you don’t have a Windows disc, you can borrow someone else’s for this purpose, although it will have to be the same Windows version. i.e. If your install was XP Home SP1, that’s the CD you need, if it’s Windows 7 Professional 64-bit that’s what you need.

If you wish to create a Windows disc there are a number of sources online for the ISO files necessary to burn a disc. Here’s a source for Windows 7.

System File Checker is really useful to restore and repair any Windows files which have become corrupt or gone walkabout:

For Vista and Windows 7

You’ll need to run SFC from the Command Prompt as an Administrator.

  • Tap the Windows key, start to type command,
  • right-click on the Command Prompt icon when it appears,
  • Select Run as administrator from the pop-up menu,
  • Type sfc /scannow at the prompt and press Enter.

For XP

  • Click Start » Run » Type sfc /scannow. Note that there’s a space before the /.
  • Click OK.

For the full story on SFC see this mistywindow page.

Microsoft’s System Configuration Utility

You can run the Microsoft System Configuration utility from the Command line. Press the Windows key or click on the Windows orb and type msconfig. Press the Enter key and you’ll get this:


If you click on the Services and Startup tabs you can uncheck items that you suspect are unnecessary and are clogging the cogs of Windows.

If you’re not sure what’s bogging things down you can get a good idea by looking at the Windows Task Manager. Open it using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+Esc.

Autoruns screenshot

Msconfig’s OK, but there’s a more useful tool: the free Autoruns from Microsoft subsidiary Sysinternals:


You can download Autoruns free-of-charge from here: AutoRuns for Windows. It’s a mystery to me why it’s not included as part of the standard Windows installation. It’s a stand-alone program which doesn’t need to be installed. Just run the downloaded file from anywhere on your computer. I’ve written a little more about Autoruns here.

Disk Defragmenter

Note: this does not apply to solid state hard drives. Most experts agree that defragging SSDs is unnecessary and contributes to the drive’s deterioration over time.

XP needs regular defragging of files which get split up and scattered over vast reaches of your hard drive. Vista and Windows 7 are much improved in this regard but you should still run a defragmentation program every month or so. Start » All Programs » Accessories » System tools » Disk Defragmenter or, as before tap the Windows key and type in this instance, defrag. The Windows Defrag utility is useful but there are better options. Auslogics Disk Defrag is the current champ amongst the freebies and you can download it from here.

Auslogics Disk Defrag

Process Monitor

Process Monitor is a bit geeky. If you’re having real trouble figuring out what’s taking over your system you can use it to see what’s running in real time. Read about all it on this mistywindow page.

Try Check Disk

This will run a check on all files next time your computer starts.

There are three ways to run chkdsk — first method:

  • Click the Start Button (the Orb) then » All Programs » Accessories
  • Right click Command Prompt.
  • Select “Run as Administrator”.
  • At the Command Prompt type:
  • chkdsk /f
    (there’s a space before the /)
  • Press the Enter key.


  • Open Windows Explorer (keyboard shortcut: Windows key+E)
  • Right click on the icon of the drive you wish to check. Usually the C: drive.
  • Select “Properties“.
  • Click on the Tools tab.
  • Click the “Check Now” button.
  • Click “Start“.
  • Click “Schedule Disk Check“.


Boot from your Windows 7 or Vista DVD and run chkdsk using the Windows Recovery Environment. Full details here: How to use the Command Prompt in the Vista Windows Recovery Environment

Uninstall unnecessary programs

Go to Uninstall Programs in the Control Panel. In Vista or Windows 7 you can click the Windows key and type:
uninstall a program. By the time you reach “p” you’ll see the appropriate link at the top of the list of programs.

Anything in the list of installed programs that you’re unlikely to need should be uninstalled. Many laptops and proprietary computers from companies like Dell and HP include a lot of utilities that aren’t good for much except bogging down Windows. Get rid of them.

Restore from an Image

The single best thing you can do to secure your Windows installation is to create an image after the initial setup and maintain a reasonably current image thereafter. When it all turns to custard just restore your machine from an image and in 20 minutes everything is fixed. See my imaging page for a full description and some excellent options for free and paid software.

Repair install

If nothing helps to clear your misty Windows installation you can do a Repair Install. This only applies to Windows XP. Sadly, you can’t do it with Vista or Windows 7:

Repair installation of Windows XP.

When all else fails, this type of installation leaves all your programs and data intact while reinstalling Windows.

  • Boot the computer from your XP CD (if this won’t boot, you may need to change the order of boot devices in BIOS setup).
  • Eventually you will see the “Welcome To Setup” screen. Press the Enter key to start Windows Setup.
  • Be careful NOT to choose R, which is “To repair a Windows XP installation using the Recovery Console”. That is what you don’t want!
  • Accept the License Agreement.
  • Windows setup will search for existing Windows installations.
  • Select the XP installation you want to repair (there is usually only one) and now press R to start the repair.

Then just follow the prompts.

More complete instructions on how to do this, complete with pictures, are here on Michael Stevens’ excellent site .

The best laid schemes ‘gang aft agley’ so back up your data first, just in case!

Clean install

Sadly, sometimes Windows gets so scrambled that the best solution, when even a Rep[air Install fails to save your bacon and assuming that you have a Windows CD or DVD and a valid Product Key code, you just have to bite the bullet, reformat your hard drive and reinstall it.


Don’t be afraid. It’s not brain surgery.

Then again, you could always follow in mistywindow’s footsteps and switch to the Mac.


The invaluable Windows System File Checker

System File Checker is a very useful tool in the armoury of Windows users. It repairs broken or missing Windows system files, it often fixes obscure problems which defy resolution, and it usually improves Windows performance to a greater of lesser degree.

System File Checker run from the Windows Command Prompt
In Windows 7 or Windows Vista run the command sfc /scannow from an “elevated” Command Prompt.  For a more detailed description of System File Checker, elevated Windows Command Prompts and how to use them see this mistywindow page.

You really need System File Checker.


“One Love” from Playing for Change

Another favourite from Playing for Change, Songs Around the World:

It all started with vocals and guitar recorded in Santa Monica by a street musician called Roger Ridley. The producers then set off around the world with a laptop and some microphones.

whatever text scratches your itch
whatever text scratches your itch

Playing for Change is a multimedia movement created to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music… ….musicians from all over the world are brought together to perform benefit concerts that build music and art schools in communities that are in need of inspiration and hope.

Like it? Here’s another one, “Stand By Me.”

In defence of the realm

Once were warriorsDefence personnel cuts announced recently are no surprise. Yet again. it’s less than a year since the last lot. It’s a pity that the projected savings can’t be put to use in restoring our defence forces to a modicum of credibility.

This on top of an intention to cut $300 million from the police budget without reducing front line effectiveness.

Yeah, right.

Our servicemen and women have shown time and again over many years that they’re as good as it gets. The problem is that their numbers are pathetic and their major equipment disgracefully inadequate. Not to mention inadequate pay and conditions that go back at least half a century and probably longer.

Why weren’t our politicians (on either side of the house) as careful with our money when they opened the chequebook to the finance companies with a breathtakingly incompetent absence of no-brainer basic conditions which have cost Ewen Mee billions? When they gave unaffordable tax cuts to the better off? Shelling out ever increasing amounts on consultants? When Key and his sycophants proclaim that our current retirement age is affordable?

Remember when we had allies?

I do. When I joined the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1958, support vessels and coastal patrol craft aside, the RNZN fighting fleet comprised these actual warships:

  • 1 Dido class light cruiser active plus 1 in reserve.
  • 4 Loch class frigates active plus 2 in reserve and 2 Rothesay class building.
  • 2 minesweepers in commission (used as corvettes) plus 2 in reserve.

We could hold our heads up in comparison with those allies committed to watching our backs. Since then it’s been downhill all the way. We now have:

  • 2 Anzac class frigates.

Much of the time, one or other—or both—of those frigates are in refit or deployed far from our shores. One frigate versus 1 hunter-killer submarine—goodbye frigate.

We spend up large on unemployment benefits (as a Chinese official asked Joe Walding years ago: “Has all the work been done?”); solo parent support (how does a baby have only one parent?); and tummy-tuck operations, but we’re too far in hock to meet our real world obligations. I wonder how our “allies” feel about that. We can pay accident compensation to a prisoner who injures himself while escaping from prison but we can’t honour even half of our committed foreign aid contribution of a paltry 0.7% of GDP.

Air inferiority

In the year I joined the navy my contemporaries in the air force were flying de Havilland Vampire jet fighters and English Electric Canberra fighter bombers. I don’t know how many were operational at that time but we owned or borrowed 63 Vampires and 31 Canberras.

Now we have no fixed wing combat aircraft.

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

We’re a maritime nation, seriously dependent on trade, shipping is our lifeline. We have no effective means of defending our shipping lanes, let alone keeping out tens—maybe hundreds—of millions of Asian refugees who’ll be looking for a home when rising sea levels cause the major coastal cities of India, Bangladesh, and the South East Asian river deltas to submerge and when Himalayan snow loss results annually in the Ganges, the Mekong, the Yellow River and all the other great Asian life-sustaining rivers drying up and devastating their agricultural output.

How enthusiastic will the Aussies and the Yanks be when we beg for their help after we’ve spent decades—generations even—abusing their good will?

Once were warriors indeed.

Thanks, but no thanks…

Idea of the Week

In the “Why didn’t I think of that” category …none of the above button

In the Listener a while back letter writer John Mihaljevic, prompted by the dubious selection of Auckland mayoral candidates, suggested that all ballot papers for national and local body elections should include the option: “None of the Above”.

Furthermore, John stipulated,

“Any election in which this option receives the most votes should be repeated, without any of the candidates being allowed to take part, except, perhaps, to pay for it.”

Right on, John. Excellent idea. Let’s do it. Retrospectively would be good.

I’ve yearned for such an option, but hadn’t the wit to suggest what should have been such an obvious and potentially invaluable follow-up rule. I really needed this in the 2008 election. I voted National because the alternatives were worse and because I hoped that they had a cunning plan. They didn’t.

I didn’t make the same mistake in 2011.

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